That Eddie Futch lived to 90 without making any enemies was remarkable enough, but considering that almost all those years were spent in boxing, a business in which nice guys generally don't finish at all, it's even more astonishing. Beloved of friends and rivals alike, Futch was a gentleman trainer whose good nature didn't seem to interfere with success in the ring. He trained 22 champions, six of them heavyweights, and would have trained who knows how many more if he hadn't been as scrupulous about his fighters' conduct as he was about his own.
Futch, who died on Oct. 10 at his home in Las Vegas, had only recently withdrawn from the sport he'd distinguished for so long. To the younger generation he may be best remembered as the man who somehow whipped the undisciplined Riddick Bowe into a heavyweight champ. Bowe, who found it hard to listen to anyone's instructions, idolized the man he called Papa Smurf and listened enough to win the WBA, WBC and IBF titles from Evander Holyfield in 1992 but not, ultimately, enough to keep Futch from dropping him.
Futch could be impatient that way, ignoring the money when it got in the way of his standards. More fighters were turned away than taken in. Of those Futch did work with, the record is plain: He made them better. Starting with Don Jordan, who won the welterweight title in 1958, Futch trained such champions as Larry Holmes, Michael Spinks, Alexis Arguello and Mike McCallum. While Muhammad Ali is regarded as the greatest heavyweight of his era, Futch devised upsets of Ali by both Joe Frazier and Ken Norton.
For all that, he may best be remembered for a defeat. Futch was the man who threw in the towel before the 15th round of the Thrilla in Manila, telling an enraged Frazier, "It's over." Many believe that Frazier, going into that final round, might have rallied to take the rubber match of the Ali-Frazier trilogy, but Futch wasn't about to risk Frazier's life—the fighter's left eye was swollen shut—to find out. It was, beyond any championship he brought a fighter, an example of Futch doing the right thing, which he did for an awfully long time.